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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Abortion Ambiguities

The folks at Third Way have a poll and analysis out this week on the politics of abortion. The poll, by the Feldman Group, was actually conducted back in July. The analysis, by Third Way’s Rachel Laser, is new.
The main value of the poll is two-fold: first, instead of trying to force people into “pro-choice” and “pro-life” camps, it encourages expressions of ambiguity, best indicated by the fact that sizable majorities of Americans appear to simultaneously believe that abortion is the “taking of human life” and a practice that should basically be up to women and their families and doctors, not government. Second, the poll is pretty sophisticated in showing significant shifts of opinion on ancillary issues like emergency contraception, depending on whether the question links the subject explicitly to that of abortion prevention.
On a quick reading, the poll analysis seems to suggest that talking about abortion prevention (which is exactly what Third Way thinks progressive politicians should do) can backfire if perceived as a “dodge” of the underlying issue of abortion itself. But the only way around that is to self-label oneself as “pro-choice” before embracing the common ground of abortion prevention, which undoubtedly shrinks that common ground. Short of simply identifying oneself with the morally incoherent views of so many Americans, it’s hard to see a position that won’t ultimately fall prey to the polarized labels. And while reaching out to “the other side” does have the value of lowering temperatures, let’s not forget that we may well be one Supreme Court appointment away from a situation where yes-no questions about the legality of abortion become impossible to transcend.

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